A 22-year-old man from California has been charged with setting fire last month to curtains at Comet Ping Pong pizza shop in the Chevy Chase neighborhood of Northwest Washington, according to federal law enforcement authorities.
Ryan Jaselskis, also known as Ryan Rimas, is charged with maliciously damaging or destroying by means of fire. Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey ordered the Northridge, Calif., man detained until a Feb. 19 hearing in U.S. District Court. His attorney with the federal public defender’s office did not respond to an interview request; relatives could not be reached.
While court documents allege Jaselskis set the Jan. 23 fire using lighter fluid, authorities provided no motive. Comet Pizza was in the national news in 2016 when it was targeted by a North Carolina man who showed up there with a fully loaded AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and a revolver seeking to investigate a viral Internet rumor known as “Pizzagate.”
The man, Edgar Maddison Welch, was investigating a false conspiracy theory that linked Hillary Clinton to an alleged child-sex-trafficking ring and asserted that child victims were being held in tunnels under the restaurant. Welch pleaded guilty to assault and weapons charges in 2017 and was sentenced to four years in prison.
D.C. fire officials and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said last month the fire had been intentionally set. Police and fire officials said Jaselskis is the same person captured in video surveillance that showed the fire being set and a man walking out of the restaurant wearing a blue jacket with white sleeves and red trim.
Court documents filed Thursday say Jaselskis was wearing that same jacket when he was arrested Feb. 4 and Feb. 5 and charged with trespassing in a construction area at the base of the Washington Monument. During the Feb. 4 arrest, a U.S. Park Police officer reported that Jaselskis resisted and was subdued with a Taser.
Firefighters from Engine 13 were called to treat him, and fire department spokesman Doug Buchanan said a firefighter reported Jaselskis resembled the man on wanted fliers in the fire at Comet Ping Pong. That began an investigation that led to the charges in the fire, officials said. Authorities have now confiscated the jacket.
Court documents also say that a witness who was at Comet Ping Pong when the fire occurred identified Jaselskis’s photograph in a lineup.
The fire forced the evacuation of the restaurant, which features ping-pong tables, but caused little damage. The owner was able to open the next day. Police said they found several burned matches on the floor under where the curtains had hung in a backroom. They also reported finding a box of matches and an open, partially full plastic bottle of lighter fluid on a table.
Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.